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Bear Street businesses call for fewer trees in beautification project

“The displeasure of numerous storefront being blocked by trees certainly caused quite a stir,” said Bear Street business owner Kaylee Ram.

BANFF – The number of trees to be planted in the redevelopment and beautification of Bear Street is being cut following an onslaught of opposition from businesses concerned that views to their stores or restaurants will be blocked.

Based on a motion from Mayor Karen Sorensen at a marathon council meeting on Monday (March 8) , council voted 5-1 to reduce the number of trees to be planted on Bear Street by 20 per cent.

“I feel that anything beyond that is too much based on the work and the cost and the project that’s already been designed,” Sorensen said.

“But I am trying to do something somewhat substantial in terms of trying to make a difference for sight lines.”

Bear Street business owners also voiced their frustrations over the effects construction delays have had on their already struggling businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

They called for improvements to what they considered a lack of communication throughout the $9.5 million project, and for council to consider tax concessions for their businesses financially hurt by the construction.

“I think we can all agree the timelines and delays of this project have caused an unbelievably troublesome experience for most,” said Kaylee Ram, co-owner of Snowtips-Bactrax. “It was disheartening.”

Redevelopment of the 200 block of Bear Street, which has been on the books for 28 years, aims to turn the street into a growing tourist attraction and boost businesses.

Construction replaces aging water and sewer systems, adds planters, and a self-irrigation system for more than 100 trees, new streetlights and a pedestrian-friendly ‘cobble-stone’ street. 

There will be no curbs or centre line, and the tile-slab surface aims to create an environment that envisions a better balance of the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and low-speed motor vehicles.

But many businesses are complaining about the landscaping plan.

“The displeasure of numerous storefronts being blocked by trees certainly caused quite a stir,” Ram said. “There has been no consultation on what we would want in front of our businesses.”

Darren Enns, the director of planning and development for the Town of Banff, said he was surprised by all of the opposition to the landscaping plan, which had gone out for public review as part of the design process.

“In our minds, this has been one of the most open design processes we’ve ever engaged in for a public street,” he said, noting the project design was also presented at a series of open houses.

“Parking was the issue that arose out of this, as opposed to landscaping. We felt that was the opportunity to provide feedback on landscaping before we started building the project.”

Enns said there are numerous benefits to street trees, including stimulating pedestrians to linger longer, drawing more visitation to Bear Street and the important role they will play in stormwater management.

“A very basic perception is that when people come to the national park, trees are part of that experience,” he said.

Administration was asked by council to consider the mix of coniferous and deciduous trees, and the spacing when planting.

Councillor Corrie DiManno was the lone opposition to the vote to cut trees planted on Bear Street by 20 per cent.

“We went through public consultation on landscaping, asking did we think we needed more or less, and when council had this brought forward to us, we didn’t make a motion around it,” she said.

“We’ve heard that what’s being proposed may change as they finalize design, and when I look at Banff Avenue, trees are what really helped to make that street, and I wouldn’t want to compromise any of the potential vision for Bear Street.”

Coun. Ted Christensen was unsuccessful in his attempt to form a landscaping sub-committee, which would have included representatives of Bear Street businesses.

In addition, an attempt by Coun. Brian Standish for council to consider tax concessions for businesses on Bear Street that took a financial hit due to construction and the delays was shut down by most of council.

However, in response to what businesses saw as a lack of communication throughout the project, council will consider increasing the hours of the liaison officer with Bear Street businesses to help improve communications.

“Communications, planting and compensation were the three big issued raised by businesses,” Sorensen said.